NORTH PROVIDENCE – The North Providence School Department has created a new handbook for athletic coaches in response to allegations of inappropriate behavior by coaches elsewhere in the state.
The School Committee approved the new handbook last Wednesday, Aug. 3, written with help from Athletic Director Glenn Williams and school attorney Ben Scungio.
After they reviewed the district’s existing policies, Supt. Joseph Goho said they added “appropriate language that we might need, considering … some of the circumstances that have been occurring around the state that everybody is familiar with.”
Several former coaches in North Kingstown have been accused of inappropriate behavior in recent months.
"We want to make sure we have the appropriate language to provide guidance and secure the district with the appropriate policy,” Goho told the School Committee.
Member Gina Picard requested a number of changes to the handbook before it is officially released. One concern she said “comes up over and over again as you read the news is communication with students.”
The handbook includes language about emails between students and coaches, but there’s no mention of texting. She asked for a caveat that coaches cannot communicate with athletes using their personal cell phones.
Goho said some districts are moving in that direction, but there are pros and cons to banning text communications. North Providence doesn’t have a school district app that they can require people to use.
“The benefit of using personal phones to text is that the communication is immediate, but obviously in some extreme cases those records or those communications become problematic,” he said.
Scungio said the district could explore the app option for athletic communications. Typically, he said coaches will communicate directly with team captains, who share the information with the rest of the team.
Goho said he doesn’t necessarily want to “shoot a cannon to kill an ant.” If the district starts requiring people to use an app on their personal device, there could be “legal entanglements.” If they don’t, necessary communication may not occur at all.
Picard said there’s no reason for a coach to text athletes unless there’s an emergency or last-minute cancellation. She said communications should be restricted to the students’ school-issued email accounts, allowing the district the ability “to track if there’s a concern.” That, she said, would protect North Providence coaches and athletes.
There’s a line in the handbook asking coaches not to leave athletic areas, including the weight room and locker rooms, unsupervised or unlocked. Picard asked if there’s a protocol on the books for a female athlete with male coaches, or vice versa.
She also asked to ensure that the handbook:
• Is in conformance with Rhode Island Interscholastic League policies and procedures;
• Adequately addresses Title IX, the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination;
• Considers the ‘Nathan Bruno and Jason Flatt Act,’ which would require the training of teachers, students and all school personnel regarding suicide.
Another line in the handbook requires coaches to “familiarize themselves with the district's communication and relationship policy including the district’s harassment policy and Title IX,” but Picard would take that a step further and require coaches to be trained.
“That training piece, not just the review of the policy, is going to be more important than actually reading the policy,” she said, adding that she’d like to have all coaches participate in mandatory Title IX training.
In light of “emerging concerns” and the goal to “give kids and everyone the best athletic experience,” Goho suggested the district might consider a mandatory meeting for all athletes and coaches to educate them on Title IX, appropriate communication and other relevant topics.
The handbook was unanimously accepted by the committee.